Well, now that the newspaper of record, the NY Times, has weighed in on social software, we can now say that social software inside the firewall is mainstream. The article, unfortunately, is very shallow, and only serves to reinforce stereotypes about social business.
First, the article focuses most of its attention on Salesforce Chatter, which, while it is a very nice social tool for CRM, is not one of the leaders in social business software (at least according to the Gartner Magic Quadrant, which is always right 🙂 ).
Second, the article focuses strongly on the need to control and filter what is said on social networks inside the firewall. While it is true as the article said that users should take the attitude that “if you don’t want your company president to see it, don’t post it,” realistically most social software users have become well sensitized to the fact that posting on social networks is visible, and most of the anecdotal evidence supports the fact that people behave as professionals on social business platforms – in other words people don’t behave in the same ways on work social networks that they do on Facebook.
Another paragraph of the article states: “For instance, some workers prefer to be “lurkers” who read posts rather than write them. Others are just not interested. At Symantec, the computer security company, a few employees initially disliked the idea of an internal social network, but nevertheless used it to air their complaints.”
This point illustrates our core contention (stated in a previous post) that it is not enough to simply install a social network inside the firewall. Doing so will not provide the incentive to the majority of users to actually adopt the software. What is required is the establishment of reasons to use social software. Please distinguish between reasons to use and rules to use. Reasons to use are things perceived as useful to a user, rules to use are perceived as commands to be obeyed. Which of these two do you believe is more likely to spur real adoption and social emergence in your company. As we have stated before, we believe that social project management is an excellent reason to use social software, and that it is perceived that way by people naturally.
Giving people reasons to use social networking software means making it part of getting their jobs done. More importantly, it means making it a part of getting their jobs done better than they could otherwise. Any other driver of adoption, whether policy or making it a part of performance evaluation will be seen as compulsion, which is anything but social. Only when you give people reasons to use the software will people stop lurking and stop resisting.
While it is wonderful that the gray lady has recognized the phenomenon of social business software, the story is incomplete. Where are the stories of the benefits of social, the reports of 40, 50, 60% reduction in workflow, the reports of emergent networks of employees who have never met working together to solve business problems before they escalate, etc.? Perhaps the NYT needs to take some direction from Paul Harvey, and seek out the “rest of the story”? We can only help that they will do so in the future.